3 Ways Parents Can Combat the Negative Impact of Instagram on Teens
According to a study on the mental health and wellbeing of young people, as children move into adolescence, their self-esteem tends to decline on average. In focus groups, young people cited increased concerns about being judged and not belonging during the transition to secondary school as being particularly hard on their self-esteem. And according to Forbes, findings from a new study assert that girls have much lower self-esteem in their teenage years.
There’s no doubt that social media can be a helpful tool for keeping in touch, especially for teens navigating the communication challenges of life amid a pandemic. And while it can keep teenagers connected to their peers, platforms like Instagram may also create a toxic landscape for young adults already struggling to navigate self-esteem issues.
How Damaging is Instagram to Teenagers
Teens ages 13 to 18 spend an average of nine hours on social media per day, with 76% of American teenagers using Instagram. And no, you didn’t just mis-read that! Teens really do spend an astounding average of nine hours (the majority of their day) immersed in a virtual world! As for parents, the San Diego County District Attorney reports that only 52% moderately supervise their childrens’ Internet use and 20% do not monitor use at all.
Unfortunately, this combination of excessive, unsupervised screen time can exacerbate underlying self-esteem issues and leave room for damaging experiences that parents may be unaware of. Just how damaging?
Over the past three years, Facebook has been conducting studies on the impact that Instagram, its popular photo-sharing app, has on the nearly 22 million teens logging on in the U.S. each day. The company’s researchers have repeatedly found that Instagram is harmful for a significant percentage of them, particularly teen girls.
Why has Instagram Become a Toxic Platform for Teens
According to Instagram head Adam Mosseri, there are specific Instagram features that may be posing the biggest threat for harm to young adults, including filters for selfies that alter the image of users, making them look, well, too perfect. Another aspect of Instagram that emerged as concerning is the continual pressure on users to share only their “best life.” In addition to filters and snapshots of perfect moments, the algorithm also causes trouble by curating content that can be toxic.
For example, if a teen girl searches Instagram for workouts and likes a few she finds, the app’s algorithm will likely populate her Explore page with posts about how to lose weight and photos of the “ideal” body type.
How Can Parents Protect Their Teens from Instagram’s Dark Side
Although it could be tempting to ban teenagers from using Instagram altogether, there are several steps that you as a parent can take to improve your teen’s chances at developing a healthy self-esteem that are more realistic.
1. Educate Yourself
Understanding how apps like Instagram work will open your eyes to how your teen can be impacted by the content they consume online, allowing you to discuss who they are following and how it makes them feel. That may mean paying more attention to your own Instagram feed and what’s trending.
2. Set Realistic Parameters
Perfect and filtered images on Instagram’s feeds are more potent the more time your teen spends online, so set parameters regarding how much time they can spend on the app every day. These parameters should also include when it’s appropriate to be on the app – not before school or not until homework is done – for example. And follow your own rules! If you decide that your teen can’t post selfies, practice what you preach and skip the selfies on your own account.
3. Encourage Positive Influence
The abundance of polished Instagram posts out there can inadvertently reinforce detrimental and superficial values for teens, especially for girls. Talk to your teen about the drawbacks of the app and what they see as issues on their feeds. Listen, then encourage your teen to help change the culture of social media by sharing content that is authentic, uplifting, and age-appropriate. Encourage them to share posts that are kind and only use filters that are funny (as opposed to beautifying).